Joe Sierra’s favorite part of the day is greeting faculty members and students on campus. When he walks through a school hallway, on the way to repair an A/C or heating unit, he inevitably hears a shout from a student, extending a hand and calling, “Hey, Mr. Sierra!”

“It’s like one big family,” Sierra said.

Sierra works for plant services in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning department. As an HVAC technician, he is a versatile problem solver. He responds to calls to repair A/C and heating units, works with refrigeration, and even performs kiln repairs – all in the effort to ensure students have a comfortable environment in which to learn.

In 2008, Sierra’s daughter attended second grade at Cypress Elementary School. One day, he was approached by the school counselor, Tracy Nolan, about the possibility of joining the Leander ISD’s mentor program. He decided to think about the possibility before making a decision.

“I went home that night, and I couldn’t sleep,” Sierra said. “I just couldn’t get it off my mind, and I just went back to her the next day and said, ‘Sign me up. What do I need to do?’”

Sierra began taking his lunch breaks with his mentoree once a week. He starts with simple questions, “Hey, how’s your day going?” or “How was your weekend?” Although they may not say much at first, the small time commitment to a lunch once a week with a student soon opens up a dialogue.

“At times, I may be swamped at work and not be able to make it, so I’ll set up another appointment with them, and the teacher informs me, ‘Joe, the student was asking for you yesterday,’” Sierra said. “That right there is a blessing. That just verifies my convictions.”

Over the years, Sierra has seen his mentorees graduate from high school and begin their college careers. After taking a short break from mentoring, he recently learned he will soon begin a mentorship with a student at Stiles Middle School.

“If somebody needs help, I’m always willing to pitch in and help out,” Sierra said. “I enjoy just bringing a smile to their face, making them laugh, or just sharing a meal together.”